Have you got F.I.?

Have you got F.I.?

In a recent Times article, it presented to us the term ‘Fashion Intelligence’ and explained what it meant and who had it.

Fashion intelligence (FI) is the style equivalent: it’s a flair for putting together clothes that exists independent of money or looks, or even trying.

Real FI is also a kind of physical gift. People with high fashion intelligence have a knack for wearing clothes. They hang right on them, crease in the right way; if they roll up a sleeve, undo a button or add a belt, some chemical reaction takes place and you have perfect rightness. It’s the reason Sofia Coppola wears Marc Jacobs better than anyone else.

I have to acknowledge this notion of ‘Fashion Intelligence’ because it’s what separates the good and the bad fashion apples.  It’s very instinctive when I insist that the Olsen twins have F.I. whereas the Simpson sisters do not.  Or when Chloe Sevigny rocks an outfit, there’s something more behind that oufit than simply a stylist putting it together.  Probably most of you here will sense when you’re in the presence of true F.I. and it seems it’s very hard to fake.  Nicole Richie seems to do a good job of presenting a facade of F.I. but then of course when you know there’s a Rachel Zoe behind her every look, her F.I. level is immediately diminished. 

At the same time though, an article like this serves to reconfirm to a lot of people that fashion is like an exclusive club, you either have an invitation to get in or you don’t, in which case you’ll get turfed out onto the unfashionable streets.  Presenting the notion of F.I. would baffle many into thinking ‘Ok….so do I have F.I.?’ which I have a problem with.  A lot of people have been asking me (and I don’t flatter myself!) how do I put outfits together, is it a skill and so and so forth.  The truth is I have no idea.  I personally never learnt it as a skill, nor did I feel like I got more stylish over time because I’ve had the same approach towards dressing ever since I could afford to buy my own clothes.  Yet, I don’t wish to say that putting together an outfit is something that can’t possibly be taught.

I would hate to pertain to having a high level of so-called ‘fashion intelligence’ and yet I have no idea how to explain why I wear what I wear and the choices I make.  By teaming the words ‘fashion’ and ‘intelligence’ together, begs the question can the ‘skills’ of styling yourself be taught and learnt or is it something intrinsic and instinctive?  I’ve yet to meet a person who began as someone who didn’t have style but then got gradually more stylish but surely these people must exist?  Perhaps F.I. can be developed over time for a lot of people.  Perhaps, for some, they always had it.  Perhaps many people will never have it which is no bad thing.  Funny how a filler article in the Times prompts so many questions.

13 comments

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  1. Eli

    2006-08-30 at 2:36 AM

    I didn’t read the article yet…but I wonder if they acknowledge people who have the “FI” but not the money to emulate it. Does that make you have FI or not? But then again, you pointed out as with the Simpson’s, you can have money, but not the FI…when did fashion get so philosophical…

  2. victime de la mode

    2006-08-30 at 7:38 AM

    I think it would be sad to think that it’s all genetics… I think that the older I get, the more mature I get, the more knowledge in fashion I scrumble upon me, the more rifined my aesthetic gets.. I think that it’s definately something you can learn or evolve, but some people seem to have it easier than others..

  3. ama

    2006-08-30 at 8:08 AM

    FI? If it does exist, it’s probably a more exclusive thing than an actual IQ, how many times do you see people put together on the street, and how often do you think they’re put together ALL THE TIME? I’m a designer/stylist and I’d like to think I’m put together a majority of the time, but just the other day I was wearing what I thought was a fun and interesting outfit: a leopard print vintage cape with hood, black Martin Margiela top and a sheer chiffon Rick Owens skirt funky but classic in black, with pink 50 den Topshop tights and simple black Prada flats when at my local grocery store a woman actually laughed at me. Which is just Paris for you. In Paris I will be stared and pointed at while in London even what I think is my craziest outfits are hardly glanced at. Oh and by the way, the Olsen sisters use a stylist too, and to such a degree that it makes Rachel Zoe and Nicole Richie seem like they don’t speak much. I consider the Olsen Twins to have very little FI, they work too hard to look good and have a lot more resources to do it so it looks like they spend no time at all. I always ask my clients if they’re fans of the Olsens, who basically wear a lot of Marc Jacobs and vintage. Odd considering Marc Jacobs rips off a lot of vintage (not to mention everyone else). That’s my 2 pence.

  4. Elise

    2006-08-30 at 11:12 AM

    Interesting. I don’t really think anyone is born with this “fashion intelligence”. How many times do you spot a child who’s rocking an amazing outfit? I mean, they look cute and all, but in a different way.
    I think I agree with victime de la mode on this. It’s an evolving process. I myself used to be all over the place fashionwise and now I’m a little bit older I feel like I have a more refined idea about what my personal style is and what sort of clothing looks best on me. I still wouldn’t call it FI though, it’s just that it gradually seems to be getting better.
    I do believe that this fashion intelligence is easier to reach for some people than others. Like it’s a charactergene, that may or may not come out, depending on circumstances.
    And there are also those people who’ll simply look amazing in anything, and that often get’s mistaken for fashion intelligence. Kate Moss for example. I think a lot of things she wears look ridiculous on ‘her followers’, they simply work for her because she is gorgeous enough to pull them of.

  5. The Mellowist

    2006-08-30 at 4:19 PM

    Hmm… I think confidence is the key to F.I. Or at least a major part of it. I know there are dissenters out there who might argue that confidence is also a characteristic of the deluded, but to me, the main reason why someone rocks an outfit as opposed to somebody else who just looks okay in the same outfit is because the cooler person feels confident that they look good, and others can perceive this aura about them.
    i mean, you can put on an absolutely lovely dress, but any insecurity about whether you look good in it, would undoubtedly affect the poise and the way you wear your clothes, adding an air of gaucheness to something you might well be able to pull off.
    perhaps to convince others you look great you have to first convince yourself. Then progress to the stage where you can wear everything with nonchalance because you believe you look fine anyway.
    Just a thought. 🙂

  6. DJM

    2006-08-30 at 5:14 PM

    I think it’s completely subjective because one person may consider someone to be incredibly stylish whilst another may look upon the same person and think they look completely ridiculous. I agree with Mellowist, it’s all about confidence. Two people can wear the same outfit but chances are only the person who is completely comfortable in the outfit will exude any style. I think FI is another way for self proclaimed fashion ‘experts’ to seperate themselves from and judge the unfashionable masses.

  7. sarah

    2006-08-30 at 8:15 PM

    I’m really glad you wrote this, Susie. I think you’ve articualted something I have been thinking about for a long time, and now I have a term to help define what it is that I lack. I spend alot of time reading fashion mags and blogs, especially yours, but I often end up feeling really uncool, because for some inexplicable reason, I can just never seem to get it together. On some people, like yourself, wearing three skirts just works, and on others, me, it just looks stupid.
    It’s depressing.

  8. susie_bubble

    2006-08-30 at 8:36 PM

    Excellent discussion here…. I think I did forget to factor in confidence when talking about fashion intelligence, and how one carries themselves. I certainly don’t know whether to take this notion of F.I. seriously as an actual term to label people with, like ‘Oooh…that girl has high F.I.’ because I still maintain that a lot of fear comes into it when talking about being able to pull things off. Sarah, for instance, you may think you can’t pull certain things off but is it really a ‘can’t’ or that there exists a fear? I’m not being accusatory – merely trying to get to the bottom of what makes people think that they can’t pull certain things off and what makes people have the ability to pull anything off!
    Gosh…this blog really does make me get so theoretical about fashion – I’m just glad you guys don’t think I’m stark raving mad for even yapping on about it.

  9. Rebecca

    2006-08-30 at 11:43 PM

    Great conversation!
    So much has to do with getting to know yourself, both what your comfortable/happy in and what looks good on you.
    I have always (since childhood) been interested in clothes, but I will never look effortlessly put together all the time like you, Susie. So I would have to come down on the side of “Fashion Intelligence, yes it can be learned”. When I am not certain about an outfit, I pull out my trusty tape measure and have at it.
    Sometimes I just don’t take the time to make the effort, but most of the time I look okay for a SAHM with a $1/day budget.
    And thinking as a hobby. hehe

  10. tiny dancer

    2006-09-01 at 1:56 AM

    i have to agree with the kate moss point, she is gorgeous enough and has great body proportions to pull anything off..like for instance, quite often u can pull things often because your body type helps u in a way as well. i am a curvier girl and i find myself picturing things in my mind, like nice combinations i could do with leggings, or bubble skirts or whatever, but because my hips are rather on the large side and i am pear shaped i can not go for them as they do not really suit me..so i have a more limited selection abt what would look good on me and what i eventually go for.
    i would have to say though that i have met people that have a great ability at layering clothes and doing the most amazing combinations, and thus managing to make every single one of their outfits look unique whereas a few years ago the term layering could not even pass my mind and i would always settle for a pair of jeans and a top when going out. still i am learning and i have certainly improved so maybe fashion intelligence is something that can also be evolved and learned as well.
    i have always thought however that there are fashion leaders and fashion followers but sometimes when i was being a little more philosophical about fashion i came to the conclusion that this sometimes occured because some of us are always taking the safe option instead of leaving our imagination gallop wild and free!
    ohh..i think i am mixed up! i am not so sure if fashion intelligence exists or not,and if it is something in the genes or something you can work it out. i would have to adopt the middle of the two extremes and just say that it depends. some of my friends have always been first on the fashion race, whereas i was always the unimaginative follower. and some of my friends make certain clothes that looked terrible on me work fantastic on them. but as i have said i have improved majorly..so maybe this is it! maybe there is fashion intelligence and other are sort of born with it while other get it along the way 🙂 🙂

  11. Beijing Baby!

    2006-09-01 at 7:16 AM

    That’s always something I’ve wondered about. People who have “F.I” may be wearing some really simple pieces but they just look amazing in it.
    However I’ve also found out another part of this discussion. A lot of the times prettier, thinner, taller people also make the outfit work appearing as if they have “F.I”.
    With celebrities, since they are all thin and generally good looking we tend to judge them with a more critical eye then if they were normal people.
    Please excuse my fragmented sentences, school just started and my brain isn’t working^^

  12. yy

    2006-09-01 at 8:43 PM

    Great post! Personally I feel like I’ve got a modicum of FI, at least when I’m *looking* at fashion, even if sometimes I’m lazy or “misfire” and wear something that I end up not liking very much. But I must admit that this is a direct function of my foray into the modeling world, fashion bloggers with FI (like Susie B), and moving to NYC. I was VERY clueless about style in high school and college.
    I think that once someone marinates in the milieu of those who have FI (Kate Moss, The Sartorialist, Face Hunter) long enough, then one becomes more in tune with and more conscious of style, both as a social phenomenon and as a personal statement.
    For instance, I think that I’m getting better at predicting trends; I bought ankle boots in March. At the same time, I find myself rejecting certain trends (skinny jeans) as “not me” in a way that I wasn’t self-aware enough to decide before I developed FI.

  13. chouchou

    2006-09-02 at 4:20 AM

    I feel that fashion sense can be cultivated. One’s taste will change depending on her environment and interests. I, for one, know a friend who has a keen eye for style. However, this ‘F.I.’ as you call it, has been suppressed by her family and friends. Her parents want her to maintain a student-like appearance so they ban her from wearing anything outside the mainstream (so yes, sadly, she relies on a staple of Abercrombie jeans and AE shirts). Her friends despise anything flashy so she is never given full credit for her ‘F.I.’ If not for the fact that she’s going to college very soon, I fear that over time her F.I. may wilt away. >.>
    I, on the other hand, believe myself to have developed F.I. over time. I mean, I’m not claiming to be the next Lagerfield or anything but I’ve come along quite a journey from the middle school years of shapeless t-shirts and hideously baggy khacki pants. On a good day, I might even deem myself a veteran in street style now and then. XD I mean, observations have definitely helped along with poring over countless fashion magazines, both well-known and obscure.
    There are those who simply do not have an eye for fashion. They can wear Marc Jacobs and look frumpy. They’ll clash gorgeous pieces in a way that is so not purposely decadent/artsy/funky. F.I. can be developed but you still have to have somewhere to start from, ya know?

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